1891 Fredonia Opera House
9 Church Street,
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The 1891 Fredonia Opera House (Official)
Architects: Enoch A. Curtis
Functions: Performing Arts
Previous Names: Winter Garden Theatre
Modern comforts, combined with turn-of-the-century beauty and charm, characterize the 1891 Fredonia Opera House. With echoes of classical theatres in Europe and New York, and the graceful curve of the full horseshoe balcony, plus the wood-turnings in the boxes and facade - and the beautifully-detailed pressed metal ceiling - here is a gem-of-a-Victorian theatre. Add a fine acoustical setting and air-conditioning to a year-round program of live events and you have a classic theater.
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Recent comments (view all 35 comments)
I recently attended a fun comedy play entitled “The Queen of Bingo” at this theatre. The audience even got the opportunity to play a game of Bingo and the winner won a 10# frozen turkey! BTW, the winner was not “Yours Truly”!
It seems this Opera House was the only one that Enoch A. Curtis built.
This is indeed the “Grand Opera House” that was mentioned in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. The theatre underwent an extensive volunteer-driven renovation between 1985 and 1994. This year, we celebrate its 15th season of continuous programming since the reopening.
Many people remember and comment on the bats that populated the theatre in the 1970s when it operated as the Winter Garden movie theatre. While the theatre still presents movies in addition to live events, the bats, fortunately, are gone now.
Thank you, Patsy, for your kind comments about “The Queen of Bingo.” It was a fun show to present. Watch for more shows like it in the upcoming season. You can see all of our upcoming events at www.fredopera.org
Dalton Burgett owned the Regent Theater in Dunkirk, a sporting goods store just a block or so from the Regent and a post office/general store in the Van Buren beach community around 1950.
He then acquired lease to the Capitol Theater in Dunkirk and a few years later the lease for the Winter Garden Theater in Fredonia. His Regent Theater had the best screen. It covered most of the front of the auditorium. For CinemaScope the top and bottom masking was lovered and raised to form than scope shape. The Regent also had a great stereo sound system. The Capitol was the wrong shape for CinemaScope. It had a small balcony and box seating lined the side walls. That left a rather narrow stage.
The Winter Garden got its scope screen rather late. I helped put the screen in place while an employee of the theater. The first scope picture was an Alan Ladd western for Warner’s and it recieved no fanfare. A backlog of scope pictures played off quickly and did not do the business it could have with some imaginative showmanship.
The Shermans managed the Winter Garden from the thrities to the late
fifties. She ran the place while he was in WWII service. They lived next door to me. Fredonia being a college town helped make the theater profitable for many years. When the studios were sending their stars out on road trips in the early fifties to get people away from their TV sets some of those stars stopped in Fredonia, would you believe? I remember meeting Pat O'Brian and Sally Forrest. Roy Rogers and Trigger made an appearance, also. Getting Trigger up all those outside steps into the building was a chore. Then Rogers rode him down the center aisle, over the orchestra pit on a platform my father built for the occasion, and onto the stage. The Durango Kid was also in town one day and signed lots of autographs. His son was a student at the college. I mentioned earlier in this piece “showmanship”. Mr Sherman taught me the rudiments of newspaper ad layout and promotions. I was in junior high at the time. GOOD MORNING, MISS DOVE, a Jennifer Jones film about a dedicated school teacher based on a best-selling novel had played in Dunkirk at the Regent to poor grosses. Fredonia always got the pictures at least thirty days after Dunkirk playdates. The Winter Garden got the film for a Wednesday-Thursday playdate, or four evening performances. I plastered large ads from the pressbook all over the college campus. Oh, the college at that time was a training school for teachers. I also did the newspaper ads heralding “The Book-of-the Month Club School Teacher”. We had four nearly sold out performances. Years later I would operate movie houses at Army bases around the country and then return to Silver Creek NY to operate the closed Geitner Theater for two years. The first year was moderaltely successful. The second year was a disaster. That was the year that the TV networks began their MONDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES…etc.
Most of the working people in Silver Creek worked out of town. By the time they got home evenings they were not going to go back out to see a movie when there was one on their TV sets. The distributors were also playing hardball with all theaters back then. You want to play the big hits you had to play the dogs also. And in the 1960s there were a lot of dogs. Thus I closed. My memories of the Winter Garden are probably what keeps me interested in old movie houses. I remember going into the theater after school when a cleaning lady would take a break. She and I would sit on the stairs to the balcony and she would tell me stories of the stars who once performed or made appearances at the Winter Garden. Much of the memorabilia from the theater’s history is housed beneath the stage near the new dressing rooms. The old boxoffice window can be seen in the rear wall of the auditorium. My only regret with the marvelous restoration was that they chose to replace the side wall lights. Before and after the show the lights were white. During the short subjects they were amber. During the feature they were blue and red. Lots of memories. James Manuel
James: Hope to hear from you as I know Dalton, Jr. and his wife though I’ve never discussed his father’s theatre history and would like to do so.
I have printed out your lengthy information and will present it to Dalton, Jr. at his office!
I see that the “Wintergarden”, which what I knew this place as, opened on October 25, 1926. It lasted into the 1980s. (I saw two movies here: Close Encounters Special Edition, and Battlestar Galactica; in the 1979/1980 timeframe.)
I think the sporting goods store mentioned above was “Walt’s”.
Did this building open in 1891?
Yes. It is a wonderful venue.
Could this building have been the insperation for Fredonia in the Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup”?